why is ето pronounced with a soft a ending sound (instead of a hard o sound?)
In one of the lessons, ето was pronounced with a soft a sound (et-ah) where I would think it should be read with a hard o sound (et-oh). Can someone explain why and if there are exceptions. thanks!
The short answer is vowel reduction. Some Russian vowels are pronounced differently depending on whether they are the stressed vowel of a word or not. So, in the case of the letter "о," when it is stressed it gets the "oh" pronunciation, but when it is unstressed its pronunciation is reduced, and it is instead pronounced as "ah." In the case of "это" (note, not "ето"), the "э" is stressed, and since no more than one vowel in any given word can be stressed, the "о" is reduced and is pronounced as "ah."
(Note: the above is an oversimplification of how vowel reduction works, but I hope this helps you to understand the basic idea.)
wow! thanks so much for that explanation! It makes a lot of sense. But in regards to это though, on http://forvo.com/word/%D1%8D%D1%82%D0%BE/, you'll hear some pronunciations with the 'ah,' and then there are some that pronounce it with an 'oh'. If vowel reduction is at play here, what is going on?
(gosh, the ето and это words are really confusing to keep tabs on.) Additionally, with your example, you wrote "(note, not "ето")." why not?
I can only speculate as to why there might be differences on that site. Some of the speakers may be non-native and are simply pronouncing it incorrectly. There's also the possibility that the pronunciation of это might vary somewhat based on dialect, but I am far from an expert on dialect variation, so I can't say with any kind of certainty.
As for ето vs это, as draquila says, they are simply different letters with different (but related) sounds in Russian.